Nov. 7, 2023, was Election Day in at least 37 states, and Americans cast their votes on everything from governorships to local referenda. When the dust settled, it was a solid night for Democrats and their allies: According to ABC News projections, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear won reelection in Kentucky, and Ohio voters passed Issue 1 to codify abortion rights in the state constitution. The AP also projected that Democrats won both chambers of the Virginia legislature and an open seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. However, there were a few bright spots for Republicans: ABC News projected that Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves beat back a strong challenge from Democrat Brandon Presley.
As results came in, 538 analysts were breaking them down in real time with live updates, analysis and commentary. Read our full live blog below.
Wrapping things up
That's a wrap! In the key races of the night, both parties held serve with Democratic Gov. Beshear's win in Kentucky and Republican Gov. Reeves's win in Mississippi. Other than that race, most of the headliners went to Democrats. In Virginia, they staved off the threat of a GOP trifecta by taking control of both chambers of the state legislature. In Ohio, both liberal ballot measures succeeded with near supermajorities. And in Pennsylvania, Democrats won a vacant seat to secure a 5-2 majority on the state Supreme Court.
Thanks for joining us! We'll see you in 2024 ... but we'll all get some sleep first.
—Tia Yang, 538
Final thought: Democrats did great, but this is not the 2024 electorate
The 2023 elections were unambiguously good for Democrats, and liberals. Despite fierce national political headwinds and a better competitor than his 2019 matchup, Andy Beshear expanded his vote margin and held the governorship in deep-red Kentucky. In Virginia, Democrats have won control of the state legislature, flipping the House of Delegates and holding their thin majority in the Senate. Their win is a rebuke, in part, of an anti-abortion push by Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin that saturated airwaves in the final weeks of the race. Democrats won a House special election in Rhode Island by about the same margin Biden did in 2020. And a near supermajority of Ohioans voted in favor of constitutional protections for abortion and to legalize cannabis for recreational use. That's a lot of "D" W's!
But the population of Americans who cast ballots in today's races will not be the same population that turns out next year. There is strong reason to suspect it will be more Republican-leaning than voters today. Because higher levels of education are correlated with political engagement (i.e., turnout) and, increasingly, the likelihood of voting for Democrats, off-year voters have become more reliably Democratic in recent years. But in presidential years, when more voters turn out, outcomes revert to the mean. "Low-engagement" voters, who are on average less educated and more Republican, show up. Per ABC News's exit polls, 46 percent of people who voted in Ohio today said they voted for Biden in 2020, versus 43 percent for Trump. That's an 11 point swing from 2020 just because of the types of people who cast ballots. As another example, Democrats did not perform nearly as well in Rhode Island's congressional special election today, with moderate turnout, as they have been in recent special elections, where turnout has been lower.
That's not to say that 2024 will be bad for Democrats. Maybe the demographic and political composition of voters will perfectly match the breakdown in 2020 and they'll be even more Democratic-leaning. That's a possibility! But it is not likely. The fact is that America's current educational divide makes it likely that the population of 2024 voters — ephemeral as it inherently is, spontaneously existing for a day and then disappearing into the ether — will be more favorable for Republicans than today's was. Democrats should celebrate their victories tonight, but they should not use them to dismiss other indicators of a close race next year.
—G. Elliott Morris, 538
Final thought: Consider tonight’s results on their own terms, not 2024's
Tonight largely went down as I — and the polls — expected. Democrats won the Kentucky governorship but fell just short in Mississippi. Virginia was close, but Democrats eked out a win. Ohio’s two liberal ballot measures passed easily. Overall, Democrats should be quite happy with these results.
But I think a lot of Democrats will be tempted to say that these results bode well for them in 2024, and I just don’t buy that. I don’t think anyone expects Biden to perform as well as Beshear nationwide next year. Ohio’s election was a ballot measure, not a Democrat-versus-Republican race. And Virginia’s legislative elections have historically not been very predictive of the following year’s election. (Remember, in 2021, Republicans had a good off-year election, but Democrats ended up having a pretty decent midterm after the Dobbs decision came down and changed the national environment.)
So my recommendation is not to read too much into what these results mean for the future, but rather just to appreciate their importance in the present. The 2023 elections will have tons of policy implications, and that’s a big enough deal on their own without tying them to the presidential race! Democrats had a good Election Day today, no matter what happens in 2024.
—Nathaniel Rakich, 538
Final thought: Biden's struggles didn't seem to cause trouble for Democrats
I think it’s fair to say that we’re in uncharted territory in the world of modern-day elections. There are two possible options that account for Democrats’ success tonight: One, the races that took place were so localized and dependent on individual candidates that it’s no reflection at all of the national political environment, since voters regularly differentiate between state and federal elections. The other possibility is that voters are disentangling the presidency from their political preferences writ large, and the Democratic Party hasn’t taken a hit even though its standard-bearer, President Joe Biden, has an average approval rating below 40 percent: “Tonight feels a lot like 2022, when Democrats won in spite of Biden, not because of him. In 2024, we'll see if Biden can win in spite of Biden.”
—Leah Askarinam, 538